The way we were

This Thanksgiving pageant photo was taken at Roosevelt Elementary, Ridgefield Park, NJ circa 1955.

I played Goodwife Bradford in the Ravinia Elementary Thanksgiving pagent in 1959. I had the first line in the second act: “The common house needs cleaning.” It was my only line, because all the other girls needed to get their one line in. Then the boys came back on.

Now that I think of it, all the Indians were played by boys. Maybe that’s why the last of the Mohicans was the last.

I wonder if kids are still allowed to dress up as Indians — or is that cultural appropriation?Do they still sing, “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing. He hastens and chastens His will to make known . . . “? (I loved the rhyme of “hasten” and “chasten.”)

No more ‘fake classes,’ schools promise

Some students were assigned to “work experience” or “service” classes that required picking up trash, running errands — or nothing at all. Others were sent home early. To settle a class-action lawsuit, six high schools in Oakland, Los Angeles and Compton have agreed to end “fake classes” with no academic content, reports the Contra Costa Times.

One of the plaintiffs, Johnae Twinn, hopes for a career in medicine. As a senior at Oakland’s Castlemont High last year, she tried to sign up for physiology and debate. Both were canceled. Instead, she was given two “home” classes — that is, no class. Another class period was spent sitting in the library. That was called “Inside Work Experience,” though she received few assignments.

Jessy Cruz failed to graduate after his high school placed him in three content-less "classes."

Jessy Cruz failed to graduate after his Los Angeles high school placed him in three “fake classes.” 

Twinn is struggling in college because of her weak academic preparation, said Kathryn Eidmann, a staff attorney for Public Counsel.

Already behind, low-income students were cheated of instructional time, Eidman told Peg Tyre in an interview. “Jessy Cruz, a named plaintiff in the suit, was a foster kid who was not on track to graduate. He was assigned to three contentless courses. He was not able to graduate. He has not gotten his GRE. He has not gotten a job.”

Eric Flood, another plaintiff, was assigned to three service classes one semester at Oakland’s Fremont High. He had to take online credit-recovery classes after school.

At Jefferson High in Los Angeles, Jason Magaña was placed in graphics, a class he’d already taken and passed, and given two “home” periods. He couldn’t get into economics, which he needed to graduate.

Putting the ‘special’ in special ed

Special education teacher Chris Ulmer spends 10 minutes every morning by complimenting each of his eight students at Mainspring Academy in Jacksonville, Florida. Does he find something new to say every day?

You can see more on Ulmer’s Special Books by Special Kids Facebook page.

Disabled son was pushed out of district school

Beth Hawkins’ autistic son was pushed out of his district school in Minneapolis — and embraced by a charter, she writes on Real Clear Education.

According to Hillary Clinton, “Most charter schools . . . don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them.” District schools “do, thankfully, take everybody,” the candidate said at a forum.

Beth and Corey Hawkins

Beth and Corey Hawkins

Any school — district or charter — can “push out” a problem student, writes Hawkins, an education writer.

When a student’s needs are too hard to meet, a school may “discipline the student often and loudly, until the parent gets the message,” or send the student to an alternative school. Some segregate problem students in special ed programs or “flat-out tell students, ‘This might not be the school for you’.”

The district school thought her son’s problems stemmed from his “bad attitude.” She thought his “good” school was bad for him.

Her 13-year-old son now attends Venture Academy, a blended-learning charter. “Students create their own learning plans, choosing what they find interesting from a menu of online and bricks-and-mortar options,” writes Hawkins.

A few days into the school year, the charter’s social worker called to say her son “had done something tough with aplomb.” His teachers “wanted my input on how to reinforce the victory going forward.”

“It was the first time the call was about playing to his strengths,” Hawkins writes. “It was the first time I was called on as the expert on my own child.”

Charters work best for neediest kids

Urban charter schools improve the achievement of their low-income, black and Latino students, writes Susan Dynarski, a University of Michigan professor, in the New York Times. In predominantly white, middle-class suburbs, “charters do no better and sometimes do worse” than neighborhood schools.

MATCH's disadvantaged students are some of the highest scoring students in Boston.

MATCH students are some of the highest scoring students in Boston. Credit: Kayana Szymczak/New York Times

Lottery studies in Massachusetts and a national study of charter schools funded by the Education Department confirm the pattern, she writes.

A Stanford study of student performance in 41 cities “also concluded that their charters outperformed their traditional public schools.”

Charter schools in Boston, which predominantly educate low-income black students, produce “huge gains in test scores,” her research shows. Charter-school “score gains are large enough to reduce the black-white score gap in Boston’s middle schools by two-thirds.”

Boston’s charters also do a better job at preparing students for college. Charter students are twice as likely to take an Advanced Placement exam as similar students in Boston’s other public schools. Ten percent of charter students pass an A.P. calculus test, compared with just 1 percent of similar students in other public schools. This stronger preparation means that these charter students are far more likely than similar students in traditional public schools to attend a four-year college.

Urban charters have one big advantage: It’s not hard to do better than the district alternative.

The bar is higher in the suburbs. Suburban charters must be drawing parents who value a small school, more flexibility, a non-standard curriculum or . . . They’re choosing something.

Looking at eighth-grade math scores on NAEP, Hispanic charter students in Florida and Arizona “scored about a grade level ahead” of Hispanic students in district schools, writes Matthew Ladner. In Florida, Hispanic charter students outperform the state average for all students in half the states.

Study: School closures helped students

Closing low-performing New York City high schools helped students, according to a NYU Research Alliance report. Most of the middle schoolers who would have gone to the closed schools ended up at smaller, higher-achieving schools. Fifty-five percent earned a diploma in four years, compared to a 40 percent graduation rate for the now-closed schools.

A 2013 MDRC study found students attending smaller high-schools were 10 percent more likely to graduate on time than students at other schools, notes WNYC.

From 2002 to 2008, the city closed 29 large, low-performing high schools and opened more than 200 new, small high schools.

Post-closure students did better, but not well, researchers said. Fewer than half earned a Regents diploma.

Massachusetts abandons Common Core tests

Massachusetts will redesign its state exam instead of using PARCC’s Common Core tests, the state board of education has decided. The new MCAS will be aligned with Common Core standards, say officials.

“Only 20 states, plus the District of Columbia, are currently scheduled to continue with PARCC or Smarter Balanced tests aligned with Common Core standards,” reports Molly Jackson for the Christian Science Monitor.

High-scoring Massachusetts “was considered a crucial supporter for Common Core tests and now, a crucial breakaway,” writes Jackson.

The Common Core was supposed to allow state-to-state comparisons, but states are “tweaking the language used to report results” so that “a score that counted as ‘approaching expectations’ in one part of the country might be labeled ‘proficient‘ somewhere else.”

“It may be a little too premature to declare it a failure,” Massachusetts Secretary of Education James A. Peyser told the New York Times, “but for sure it’s in retreat.”

The $100,000 teacher

Does It Pay To Pay Teachers $100,000? asks NPR.

The average pay for U.S. teacher is about $56,000, but pay-for-performance schemes in cities such as Washington, D.C. are pushing salaries to $100,000 and higher.

Elementary teacher Hope Harrod earns much more thanks to Washington D.C.'s performance bonuses.

Washington D.C.’s performance bonuses have pushed elementary teacher Hope Harrod’s pay to nearly $100,000.

Hope Harrod, a D.C. elementary teacher for 14 years, saw her pay go way up in 2010 under a new teacher evaluation system created by Michelle Rhee, then the city’s schools chancellor.

Now earning close to $100,000 under Impact Plus, Harrod feels “like I’m very much in a system that’s honoring me in a way that other systems don’t honor other teachers.”

This year, 765 D.C. teachers earn $100,000 or more, including bonuses, reports NPR.

Rather than advance teachers solely on the basis of seniority or education, the city school system rewards performance, with an evaluation system that involves classroom observations, test scores and other criteria.

. . . Essentially, the contract was a trade: more money for important concessions. Teachers agreed to competitive performance evaluations and the loss of tenure protections in return for the chance to increase their base salaries and receive bonuses.

Applications for teaching jobs have risen by 45 percent, say D.C. officials.

Some teachers oppose performance pay because they fear evaluations will be unfair and inaccurate.

“In nearly 90 percent of districts across the nation, teachers are not recognized for their effectiveness through increased compensation,” reports the Center for American Progress. a CAP report looks at 10 cities that are revamping their pay systems to reward top teachers.

Dark days for teachers

DEVOLSON — the Dark Evil Vortex of Late September, October and November — is time when teachers are “the busiest, craziest and, usually the saddest,” writes a middle-school English teacher on Love, Teach.

In five years of teaching, she’s never made it to October without crying.

She lists things she wishes she’d known as a first-year teacher including: how to perform copier machine surgery, how to store markers (upright, cap-end down), what to do when the school administration is dreadful, and how to de-escalate when a student tries to rip out the hair of a classmate, but “you can’t send the student to the office because your administration said nobody was allowed to write an office referral for the rest of the year.”

And she wishes she’d known about DEVOLSON.

Veteran teacher Roxanna Elden has developed a free “disillusionment power pack” to help first-year teachers make it to Thanksgiving break.

Yoga class canceled for ‘cultural appropriation’

Fears of “cultural appropriation” led student leaders to cancel a free yoga class at the University of Ottawa, reports the Ottawa Sun.

Seven years ago, the university’s Student Federation hired Jennifer Scharf to offer yoga instruction at the Centre for Students with Disabilities. Sixty students — disabled and able-bodied — typically participate. Until now.

Jennifer Scharf taught yoga at the University of Ottawa. Credit: Errol McGihon, Ottawa Sun

Jennifer Scharf taught yoga at the University of Ottawa for seven years. Credit: Errol McGihon, Ottawa Sun

“Yoga has been under a lot of controversy lately,” according to an email from a Centre official, because it is taken from cultures that “have experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and western supremacy.” Therefore, “we need to be mindful of this and how we express ourselves while practising yoga.”

Romeo Ahimakin, acting president of the Student Federation, said yoga is on hiatus for consultation with students “to make it better, more accessible and more inclusive to certain groups of people that feel left out in yoga-like spaces. . . . We are trying to have those sessions done in a way in which students are aware of where the spiritual and cultural aspects come from, so that these sessions are done in a respectful manner.”

“I’m not pretending to be some enlightened yogi master, and the point (of the program) isn’t to educate people on the finer points of the ancient yogi scripture,” Scharf told the Sun. She suggested changing the name from yoga to “mindful stretching.”

“Student leaders debated rebranding the program, but stumbled over how the French translation for ‘mindful stretching’ would appear on a promotional poster, and eventually decided to suspend the program, reports the Sun.

Really. Not The Onion.